Donald Trump and Jeb Bush need to stop. Since the two first began arguing over the Bush’s use of the term "anchor babies" this week, it’s been nothing but one offensive line after another. In Bush's case, the former Florida governor has come under fire for claiming that the term was "frankly, more related to Asian people" rather than the large population of Hispanic immigrants, further digging himself into a quandary; Trump, on the other hand, blasted Bush for his comments, posting on Twitter that "Asians were very offended" by the remarks. However, both Bush and Trump's "Asian" comments were out of line, despite the fact that each probably thinks the other was in fact in the wrong.
During a news conference in McAllen, Texas, on Monday, Bush told reporters that the public needed to "take a step back and chill out a little bit" over his initial use of the "anchor babies" term last week, which prompted his rivals, including Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who responded on Twitter, "they're [just] called babies."
"This is ludicrous for the Clinton campaign and others to suggest that somehow I'm using a derogatory term," Bush said. "[The term] is more related to Asian people coming into our country, having children in [an] organized effort, taking advantage of that noble concept, which is birthright citizenship."
Bush was referring to an alleged practice called “maternity tourism,” in which some pregnant Chinese and Mexican women have been caught paying to come to the United States to give birth, so that their children will automatically become American citizens able to attend university and live here legally. According to a CBS report in 2013, some Chinese families have used the practice in order to get around the strict “one-child policy” in their home country.
But no matter what he was referring to, both Bush’s delivery and his use of the term in general were inappropriate, especially for a candidate seeking the GOP nomination next year.
"No matter which ethnic group you’re referring to, 'anchor babies' is a slur that stigmatizes children from birth," said Asian Pacific American Caucus chairwoman, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), in a statement on Tuesday. "All that is accomplished through talk of anchor-babies — be they from Latin America, Asia, Europe, or Africa — is to use xenophobic fears to further isolate immigrants."
But Bush wasn't the only problematic factor in Tuesday’s angry back and forth. Trump, who fired back on Twitter that “Asians [were] very offended that JEB said that anchor babies applies to them as a way to be more politically correct to hispanics” (I know, take it one word at a time), was at fault too. Was the Asian American population upset over Bush’s comments? Most likely. But Trump's arguments were made with an underlying sense of smugness that is just as troubling, given previous comments he's made that were equally offensive toward Asians.
In his campaign launch this past June, Trump memorably declared:
I'm not saying they're stupid. I like China. I just sold an apartment for $15 million. Am I supposed to dislike 'em? ... People say "you don’t like China." No, I love them. … [But] they are ripping us. We are rebuilding China. We're rebuilding many countries.
By espousing bizarre, conflicting visions of what China and its Asian neighbors are — both shark-like business leaders and miserly, second-rate manufacturers bent on collectively screwing over the Western hemisphere — Trump has only perpetuated a dangerous stereotype that already plagues the political airwaves and leaves the majority of Asians — which, as a reminder, includes Indians, Iranians, Bangladeshis, and a whole host of other ethnic groups so many in politics enjoy railing about — in the dust.
The political history of both of these damaging stereotypes can actually be traced as far back as the early to mid-1800s, when, in 1866, Sen. Edgar Cowan (R-Penn.) warned against an influx of Asian immigrants delivering their children in the United States, declaring:
I am really desirous to have a legal definition of "citizenship of the United States." ... Is the child of the Chinese immigrant in California a citizen? ... Is it proposed that the people of California are to remain quiescent while they are overrun by a flood of immigration of the Mongol race?
Cowan's words can be closely tied to Bush's "anchor babies" fears. Both men expressed concerns that the practice of American-born immigrant children would be damaging to the American population in the long run, and both were wrong in doing so. Under the protection of the 14th Amendment, all children born in the United States are automatically afforded legal protections, no matter what their ethnic background. To suggest otherwise implies a deep-seeded sense of racial superiority at best — a sort of "I got here first" mentality that applies to all immigration discussions, despite what Bush might argue. Rather than taking an accusatory stance, Bush and those like him should be questioning why maternity-tourism and "anchor babies" must exist at all.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are those like Trump and his ilk, who suggest that Asians are to be revered as a sort of homogeneous "model minority" to which other ethnicities should strive to become. Rather than allowing room on the spectrum for a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, politicians like former Assistant Sec. of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a Democrat from New York) have instead over the years opted to push the myth that Asians and Asian American families were to be considered the ultimate precedent for all others, in terms of achievement and traditional values, even going so far as to use the overarching "model Asian" stereotype in opposition to black and Hispanic culture, which has generally been blamed for the "deterioration" of American society.
"At a time when it is being proposed that hundreds of billions be spent to uplift Negros and other minorities, the nation's 300,000 Chinese Americans are moving ahead on their own — with no help from anyone else," railed Moynihan in 1966. That sort of "exceptionalism" has been exhaustively drawn out over the decades — in fact, you could easily swap out the credit for that quote from "Moynihan" to "Trump" and no one might be able to tell the difference.
With the vast spread of unique Asian cultures peppering the American landscape, from its impoverished corners up to the Ivy League or the upper echelons of the business and tech world, labeling an entire group as one thing and pitting them against other minorities is not only unfair, but harmful to any who might not fit the mold perfectly. It wipes out the horrific conditions under which so many in the Asian community, educated or otherwise, suffer regularly. Worse, it pushes them to the sidelines as many in the political world assume that their voices no longer need addressing.
Asians and Asian Americans simply cannot afford to be labeled as either a burden on the immigration system or a standard of excellence by those in positions of authority — and in the political sphere, where so much relies on the understanding of the little guy, trotting out either stereotype doesn’t do anyone any good at all.